DES PLAINES, Ill. — Hurricane. Tornado. Fire. Flash flood.
Should your laundry encounter any of these emergency scenarios, your first instinct may be to get things back up and running as soon as possible. But the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) warns that reopening hastily can expose you and your workers to potential dangers.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, says ASSE President Warren K. Brown, CSP, ARM, CSHM. He suggests enlisting a safety and health professional to perform a hazard evaluation and assessment, plus consider following some tips:
Use Federal Guidelines — Utilize start-up guidance materials provided by government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), www.fema.gov, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), www.cdc.gov/niosh.
Emergency Planning and Procedures — Ensure that there is a clear evacuation path, and that fire extinguishers are still operable. If damage is found, replace the devices immediately.
Following a disaster, a company should review and update its emergency plan. Designate a place for employees to gather once out of the building, or a phone number to call following an emergency. Update your emergency contact list. Distribute the new plan to employees as they return to work.
Employee Communications — Find out if your employees are safe. Once you’ve learned the facts involving any damage your staff or business may have sustained, evaluate the next steps and communicate your plan to your employees, emergency personnel, the community in which you do business, customers, vendors and other organizations with which you work.
Structural Security and Safe Entry — Have a qualified professional evaluate your facility’s structural integrity. Contact the proper government agencies to get approval to occupy the building. Don’t enter without the proper clearances for everyone’s safety.
Clean-up Safety — Implement your clean-up and business resumption processes in a safe, healthful manner. Provide training in proper selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as eyewear, gloves and dust masks/respirators.
Following a Flood — FEMA suggests listening to news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
Avoid floodwaters that may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage, and may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines. Avoid moving water. Be aware of road surfaces that may have been weakened.
Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company. Return to your business only when authorities indicate it’s safe to do so. Stay out of buildings surrounded by floodwaters.
Use extreme caution when entering buildings, as there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations. Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits and leaching systems as soon as possible. Clean and disinfect any wet things, as mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.
Air Quality Assessment — Test the atmosphere in the workplace for asbestos and other chemicals or toxic agents. Air quality is a key concern when restarting business operations.
Ventilation — Have vents checked to assure water heaters and gas furnaces are clear and operable. Safely restart heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, inspecting power lines before energizing and pressurizing them. Test your systems after inspection or have a qualified specialist do so. It’s suggested that you blow cold air through HVAC systems first, as opposed to warm air, as it can help prevent the growth of mold in duct systems.
Interior and Exterior Exposures — For interior spaces, ensure no wall or ceiling materials are in danger of falling. Check for cracked windows and outside building materials, as these could fall on pedestrians.
Protection Equipment — It’s important to assure that fire/smoke alarms have been cleaned and tested before allowing occupancy of the building. If such systems are wired into other systems, ensure that they’re still compatible and work in an efficient, effective manner. Thorough inspection of firefighting systems such as sprinkler and chemical equipment functions is a must.
Electrical Safety — Check electrical systems, computer cables and telecommunications equipment to ensure they’re still safe and there’s no danger of exposure to electricity. Wiring inspections should be conducted from the outside in to ensure all wiring and connections aren’t in danger of shorting out due to water damage from rain or firefighting efforts.
Health/Sanitation Issues — Inspect and test the facility’s general sanitation systems to guard against potential employee exposure to toxic agents. Food sanitation should also be an issue. Discard any unused food. If the workspace has a kitchen, inspect oven hoods and other ventilation devices to ensure they aren’t clogged and are working efficiently.
Office Furniture — Inspect the furniture to ensure it can withstand expected loads and usages. Ensure that water damage hasn’t made binder bins (storage devices screwed or bolted to railing systems on walls and panels) unstable. Inspect office equipment to ensure that it’s level, stable and can’t tip over.
Lighting — Make sure there are adequate illumination levels for employees. Check emergency lighting to ensure proper operation.
Solid/Hazardous Waste Removal — Safely dispose of broken glass, debris or other materials with sharp or jagged edges immediately. But make sure that such materials can be disposed of before collection to avoid creating even bigger hazards for both employees and the public.
Power Checks — If there’s no access to electricity, don’t use fueled generators or heaters indoors. Ensure that there are no gas or sewer leaks in your facility.
Check Mainframes — If your facility has mainframe computer applications, see that lines and cabling for chiller systems are checked to avoid chemical leak-out.
Machine Inspections — Inspect the condition of the drain, fill, plumbing and hydraulic lines on processes and machines. It would be prudent to have plumbing lines evaluated and tested in order to detect any hazardous gases.
Flooring — Make sure flooring surfaces are acceptable and free from possible slips, trips and falls.
Transportation — If employees will be driving, check on the condition of the roads and make sure they’re safe. Downed power lines could be a major hazard, for example.
While employers can’t control the roadways, they can take steps to protect their employees by assigning a management team member to set and enforce a comprehensive company driver safety policy.
For more about workplace safety, visit the American Society of Safety Engineers’ website at www.asse.org.